It’s been an awful end to the week for any Gooner. Some are angry, some are sad, very few must still be positive; but, as much as our feelings towards the scheme of things do matter, I can’t imagine how the players and the manager feel and that’s what really matters at this time.
Cech voiced his concern post-Watford by stating the obvious – that the loss was a ‘setback’ in chasing down Chelsea. The man has wanted to win the title at least once more since joining the Gunners and his commitment to the team cannot be questioned. Yes, his performances can be questioned. His tweet post-Chelsea game sums it up:
Tough week to swallow … the 3rd goal today just underlined it for me … now back to work to put things back on track . #COYG
— Petr Cech (@PetrCech) February 4, 2017
Putting things back on track. That’s what has me worried. How difficult will that be? How much damage has the last two games done to the players mentally?
One would assume that all professional footballers, barring a few, play to win. “Victory” or “success” may be defined differently from club to club but it would be surprising if players wanted to remain at status quo from one season to another i.e. they do not want to see improvement over the years whether as a team or individually or both.
It would, also, be hard to to believe that – contrary to popular (or minority popular if that’s a thing) opinion – “success” at Arsenal is defined as a 4th place finish. I say that because I would find it hard to believe that players like Alexis, Ozil, Xhaka, Mustafi, Cech would join the Gunners to scrap for 4th place.
A Champions League spot is the minimum acceptable. Unfortunately, for many seasons our title challenge has faltered so the goal becomes to achieve the minimum acceptable.
Coming back to the players, before moving onto Wenger, I wonder how influential each player is or how each player is perceived by the other. Alexis is very animated about his desire to play and win; hence, it’s there for all the fans to see and acknowledge. The question is whether he will self-reflect or point the finger at the squad and believe they’re not good enough? Personally, at times, I feel he isn’t trusting enough of some of his teammates – this comes to mind when he tries to take over the play-making or chooses to exchange passes primarily with Ozil; none of this based on stats at the moment, only observation and I can be wrong. So, does that frustrate teammates? If he chooses to blame others and those others have an ounce of negativity about him, how would those others react and how would that affect team morale and/or performance?
I may have had similar questions about Ozil a year or two ago. We have seen, once upon a time, Ozil be slated by Mertesacker for not acknowledging the fans to, now, Ozil screaming at Alexis for the same! However, there is no question that this man wants to win as well. People may disagree, especially because of the popular view that he disappears in big games – as easy it is to say that, it’s always better to understand why that happens before concluding. Nevertheless, Ozil is a superstar, the same question applies – will he self-reflect or blame others? Again, if he goes for the latter, how do the others react?
I single these two out first because they have come from teams that have been winning trophies with two major clubs in one of the best leagues in the world. Their perspective would be different.
Now, what about the rest of the squad? It’s a mix of players from smaller clubs and players developed at the club. Apart from the two FA Cups, they have not experienced Premier League success. Wenger has, arguably, been slowly putting the pieces together for a championship winning team i.e. players to help take this squad to the next level.
Last season was that opportunity, it didn’t happen but we lasted in the title race a lot longer; that’s fine, miss an opportunity then go for it again when it comes. It came this season, the belief has to be there, and now we’re – barring Chelsea colossally f***ing it up and the Arsenal go on an unbelievable run – out of the running for first place at the beginning of February. What happens to that belief? The poor record away to fellow big teams doesn’t help, does this compound the idea that they do not belong on the pitch versus who are supposedly their title rivals?
How does Wenger manage all this? How many of the players will look at the manager as the reason for their early, apparent, exit from the title run? We, as fans, see such instances as ‘same-old same-old’; do the players feel the same way? I have a feeling if players did feel that way, there would be serious mistrust between players and manager – like how many fans don’t trust Wenger. However, that does not seem to be the case, the players distrusting the manager I mean. Wenger’s man-management style centres around empowering his players and that makes players more accountable to themselves, ideally speaking anyway. Of course, that does not make a manager less accountable from a more holistic perspective.
Wenger will have to be really honest with himself now in terms of the future. He is a stubborn man, sometimes rightly so, sometimes not so much. There is no doubt about the quality of the squad he has assembled; but, he should ask himself whether some of his decisions have done injustice to the squad. He should ask himself if he’s being stubborn or does he really have a case for whatever decision he is taking.
That’s for the future though. What matters more importantly is the now. Obviously his message will be to keep winning. Will he take on a more hands-on approach for the remainder of the season? It’ll be surprising if he does. People may feel that his hands-off approach isn’t good enough from a motivation perspective and getting players “mentally ready”. Or even from the perspective that a hands-on approach during a game especially will help with a result. Carlo Ancelotti, in a recent interview for ESPN, said the following:
The only thing a manager can’t control is the result. Seriously, when it comes to our clubs, when you reach a certain level, we have almost total control. But this is an unpredictable sport; it’s a low-scoring sport where individual episodes have an outsized influence. And a manager can’t really control that. There are good managers and there bad ones, sure, but nobody can control outcomes. All you can do is give yourself a better chance to succeed and you do it by working well and performing well. Of course, good performances are correlated with good results, but only in the long term, not in a month of games and sometimes not in a whole season.
Mustafi, generally reliable, poorly defended the second goal versus Watford. Coquelin, seemingly decided to go for the “get stuck into him” approach versus Hazard rather than try to match his pace for a few further yards and hold him.
Anyway, it’s easy to say that it’s a manager’s job to get players mentally ready. If he can’t motivate his players with his words, then he is deemed a poor motivator. Mourinho was considered one of the better player motivators earlier in his career, we then saw a massive collapse at Chelsea. What changed? Players may easily show they have absorbed a manager’s words, show they are “mentally ready”, and then show the exact opposite when they get onto the pitch. How do you control that, especially if it isn’t a weekly occurrence?
Is the team mentally fragile or is there a major flaw in the way they play? The team always reacts, sometimes too late in a game, but it always reacts and it reacts via their form of football. The mentally fragile would be passengers. The problem is that perhaps they react rather than be proactive hence the slow start to so many games. Is that mental weakness or a belief from the start that they will set the tone of the game rather than the opposition?
Sorry, I digressed from Wenger! I have nothing more to say actually, on Wenger at least, the man wants to succeed but on his terms and for the last two seasons he must have felt that success was very near. This has been an early crushing blow to him as much as his players. He should be reflecting now but also making sure the Arsenal get back on track.
Perhaps I have overthought everything because, like a lot of fans, I’m quite upset after the culmination of the last two results/performances. As a fan, certain things are under your control, one of them is the level of support you can give and at the moment the squad needs it.